Lord Whitty: The policy at the moment would be to follow the successful dimensions of the strategy we've adopted so far which is basically that the culling, as long as we've actually met the target figures would be effective in containing the disease. Now, there may be other measures which could be supportive to that; clearly measures of tighter bio-security, control of movements, import checks, all of these could be supportive to that but we would, at this point, primarily go for culling. I think the arguments put to the Devon Inquiry which they didn't completely accept was that at times vaccination would have been an alternative to culling. At the moment we can see vaccination being a support to culling in certain circumstances but it is not an alternative to culling.
Miriam O'Reilly: So culling would stay, for any future outbreak. What about burning and burying? Will burning and burying stay?
Lord Whitty: Let me just say that although culling would stay I do not want to pre-empt either the scientific inquiry or the inquiry under Dr Anderson. It could well be that these are alternatives are considered in those cases which the government will have to consider very seriously but as of now our contingency plan would continue to rely on culling. As far as burning is concerned, burning mass pyres are undesirable. They are not however, as some of the commentators on the Devon inquiry have suggested, they were not a measure which spread the disease.
Miriam O'Reilly: Devon said it was large movements of animals that spread the disease, not large funeral pyres
Lord Whitty: Indeed the central problem about the rapidity and the size of this epidemic has been the speed with which animals are moved around the country.
Miriam O'Reilly: Why weren't animal movements stopped immediately then?
Lord Whitty: Well, they were pretty well immediately...
Miriam O'Reilly: But they weren't! They weren't stopped immediately. It was some time before animal movements were stopped; days, meant that the disease was spread still further.
Lord Whitty: I think you'll find that at the earliest possible point my predecessors in Maff actually did order the halting of movements
Miriam O'Reilly: And what about Devon County Council sending the government a list of questions about the way the outbreak was handled in september and they only received a reply last week. Why were the answers so late?
Lord Whitty: The answers that...we met the deadline in requesting these answers...
Miriam O'Reilly: No! The deadline was late september and your response didn't arrive until the 23rd of October
Lord Whitty: We met the deadline required of us by the Devon County Council. Now I think.....
Miriam O'Reilly: Devon County Council wouldn't agree with you there Lord Whitty
Lord Whitty: Well my colleague Alun Michael discussed this at great length with the Devon County Council and we met the deadline that was agreed between them
Miriam O'Reilly: The council says that your responses were so late - the government's responses were so late that they weren't able to be included in the body of the report and they had to tack it on as an appendix
Lord Whitty: They certainly tacked it on as an appendix to this interim report because they needed to meet the deadline that they'd set for themselves...
Miriam O'Reilly: Could it be that the government was not taking the Devon County Council Inquiry that seriously is that why there was a delay in responding to it?
Lord Whitty: We take it seriously insofar as it reflects the very real experience of a lot of people in Devon and the distillation of that in this report is an important factor in looking at the national position but our main concern is to make sure that the national inquiries are fully and comprehensively dealt with by both governments and other parties who have been involved during the course of this disease
Miriam O'Reilly: So you're going take it on board - but is it going to make any difference to the way the government treats any future outbreak of foot and mouth? Already you're saying culling is still on the agenda if we have it in the future
Lord Whitty: We don't have closed minds on this and we will be putting together our full assessment of the way in which this disease has been handled and of possible alternative ways, bearing in mind what has emerged in Devon and bearing in mind other evidence which will no doubt go to the official inquiries
Miriam O'Reilly: But are you really going to give it as much weight in considering future policies as you are the government inquiries?
Lord Whitty: Well, obviously not, because the government's inquiries will be looking - in an independent and open way - at the totality of the strategy. The Devon strategy does reflect very real experience in one of the counties which most severely suffered from this disease but it isn't the total national picture
Miriam O'Reilly: You see there is a feeling in Devon that DEFRA staff were overstretched on the ground that they needed more help and they didn't get it. Can you give us answers to that?
Lord Whitty: I think DEFRA staff were overstretched right across the country where this epidemic took place. I think the question of resources the staffing is part of the inquiry which Dr Anderson will be conducting, clearly resources are part of this and part of the strain that was felt by DEFRA staff on the ground
Miriam O'Reilly: So there may be more vets put on the ground on any future outbreak
Lord Whitty: I think the question of whether the veterinary service is sufficiently staffed will also be addressed by Doctor Anderson Clearly there have been reductions over the period prior to the last government in the size of the state Veterinary Service and that may be an issue and is certainly one that Dr Anderson will wish to address